The TRIPS Council meeting, which had been convened before the announcement of MC12 being indefinitely postponed, saw members sharing the common view that the WTO cannot afford to lose the momentum that was gathering in the discussions among delegations, with a view to finding a pragmatic and tangible consensus-based solution on this issue.
The chair of the Council, Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli of Norway, said he will consult in the coming days and weeks with members to help facilitate continued engagement, and with a view to finding consensus on a substantive solution. This includes by convening small-group consultations and where necessary meetings open to all members for the purposes of transparency and inclusiveness.
Members also agreed to keep open in the agenda of the TRIPS Council the two proposals on the table subject to discussion — the proposal by India and South Africa (IP/C/W/669/Rev.1) requesting a waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19, and the proposal by the European Union (IP/C/W/681) for a draft General Council declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health in the circumstances of a pandemic.
The objective of keeping these agenda items open is to enable re-convening the TRIPS Council at short notice when and if there are indications that members might be closer to finding a landing zone. The chair said that meeting rooms have been booked for 10 December and 16 December to reconvene the Council, should this become appropriate as a result of new developments.
Ambassador Sørli thanked delegations for their continued engagement in what he characterized as a “complex issue”. He underscored members’ shared view that IP should not be a barrier to access to medicines, and that governments should be able to permit manufacturers that are able and ready to produce COVID-19 vaccines to start producing without worrying about a patent. While acknowledging with regret that members were not able to reach consensus on a substantive recommendation to the Ministerial Conference, he said he remained convinced that a pragmatic compromise solution is within reach if there is political will.
In the absence of political input from ministers in the short term, Ambassador Sørli called on members not to relent, as a practical and tangible WTO response to the pandemic is needed now more than ever. At a time when the pandemic continues to challenge the world's sense of stability, he urged delegations to remain fully engaged with a sense of urgency and with the objective of finding a pragmatic outcome. This is the time “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” he said, quoting Lord Tennyson.
Members supported the approach suggested by the chair to keep the two agenda items open and agreed that discussions must continue to leverage the work done over the past weeks and months in trying to find convergence. However, they reiterated their fundamental differences on questions such as whether a waiver is the appropriate and most effective way to address the shortage and inequitable distribution of vaccines and other COVID-19-related products. Differences were also expressed with regards to the commencement of text-based negotiations.